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Global Pulse: Punishing al-Assad is easier for the US than devising a coherent Syria strategy

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On April 14, the three countries launched an early morning strike inside Syria, that struck three facilities. The strike was intended to punish a suspected chemical attack by President Bashar al-Assad against his own people last week. Viktor Orban’s re-election for a third term in office in Hungary poses a challenge to the foundations of the European Union. Finally, democracy is flourishing in the erstwhile satellite state of Uzbekistan.

A ‘one-off’ strike, once again

More than 100 cruise missiles struck three Syrian facilities: a scientific research center that produces chemical weapons near Damascus, and two military bases. “American officials and their European allies were careful to characterise the attack as a one-off strike designed to deter Mr. Assad from using chemical weapons again,” writes The Economist. No more attacks are planned — unless he uses chemical weapons again.

“The attack was twice as big as one launched by America last year, which failed to deter Mr Assad,” The Economist writes.

“Whether or not Mr Assad is deterred by the latest strike—and warnings of more to come if he continues gassing his people—it will do little to alter the the course of Syria’s civil war. Aided by Iran and Russia, Mr Assad has been winning for some time. Rebels control only a few pockets of territory and are largely cut off from international support. As the missiles hit their targets and anti-aircraft guns lit up the sky, hundreds of people took to the streets of Damascus to protest the strike.”

“Mr Trump’s desire to make good on his promise to punish the “crimes of a monster” appear to have stalled his plans to pull America out of Syria. About 2,000 American troops are based in the north-east of the country, where they fight alongside a Kurdish-led force against what is left of the Islamic State jihadist group. “We look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home,” said Mr Trump, while announcing the attack. But his advisers want America to stay in Syria. For this administration, punishing Mr Assad is likely to prove easier than devising a coherent Syria policy.”

The anti-EU member

“Freedom, democracy and human rights are among the values that the European Union prides itself for upholding. But Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, who has won a third term in office with a resounding election win, poses a challenge that could threaten the union’s foundations,” editorializes the South China Morning Post. 

Orban’s xenophobia and intolerance undermines these values of the EU. His party, Fidesz, campaigned on the “supposed threat of migrants to Hungary’s sovereignty”, and he won 49 per cent of the vote. “Fidesz’s two-thirds majority in parliament gives it the power to change the constitution, a worrying prospect given how Orban has eroded Hungary’s rule of law by the standards of the EU, muzzled the independent media, and curtailed the voices of opponents.”

“Orban’s systematic dismantling of institutions that hold Hungary’s government to account is a major threat to the EU. Reluctant to isolate a member state and constrained by rules that require consensus for action to be taken, the grouping has so far failed to come up with a meaningful response. But that must change if the EU’s values are to be protected, reforms to strengthen it are to be implemented and a message of deterrence sent to others with an authoritarian bent.”

The opportunity for political debate, according to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, is being restricted by “intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing”. Orban’s views, which are shared by right-wing populists who are being voted into power across Europe, are now expected to bolster other campaigns. “Given what he represents and the discord he is sowing, his efforts to undermine the EU must be confronted and resolutely dealt with by Brussels.”

Democracy in Uzbekistan is not in retreat

“It is a measure of how repressive Uzbekistan was under its first post-Soviet president, Islam Karimov, that the first, tentative steps by his successor to curb the secret police are raising high hopes of an Uzbek Spring in the making. Yet with democracy in retreat across much of the former Soviet empire and elsewhere in the world, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s efforts bear watching and deserve support,” editorializes the New York Times. 

“Little was expected of Mr. Mirziyoyev when he ascended — unconstitutionally — to the presidency on Mr. Karimov’s death 19 months ago. He had long served the dictator as prime minister and was widely expected to maintain his despotic system. Yet he has unexpectedly taken a very different, and so far positive, path.”

Mirziyoyev has releases political prisoners, tried to curb the security apparatus, signed a law that makes protecting human rights one of the security service’s missions, reduced the use of forced labour in cotton fields and loosened control over the media.

“After seven decades of Soviet rule and 27 years under Mr. Karimov’s iron hand, fear, self-censorship and timidity run deep among Uzbekistan’s citizens. Even if Mr. Mirziyoyev succeeds in bringing the security apparatus under control, there is no certainty that he is prepared to cede his own powers, put an end to arbitrary detentions and torture, or address past abuses. Despotism as deep as Uzbekistan’s is not quickly excised.”

“But Mr. Mirziyoyev has made a beginning, and it is critical that the United States and the European Union link whatever engagement they have with Uzbekistan, whether investment or development programs, to continued improvements in human rights. That is critical not only insure that Mr. Mirziyoyev stays the course, but also as an example to Uzbekistan’s neighbors, and to any leader who sees benefits in authoritarian and illiberal rule,” the New York Times writes.

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